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Saudi women DJs go from hobbyists to headliners

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA:

Standing behind her control tower with headphones around her neck, Saudi DJ Leen Naif segues smoothly between pop hits and club tracks for a crowd of business school graduates noshing on sushi.

The subdued scene is a far cry from the high-profile stages — a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah, Expo 2020 in Dubai — that have helped the 26-year-old, known as DJ Leen, make a name for herself on the Saudi music circuit.

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Yet it captures an important milestone: Women DJs, an unthinkable phenomenon just a few years ago in the traditionally ultraconservative kingdom, are becoming a relatively common sight in its main cities. These days they turn few heads as, gig after gig, they go about making a living from what once was merely a pastime.

“A lot of female DJs have been coming up,” Naif told AFP, adding that this has, over time, made audiences “more comfortable” seeing them on stage. “It’s easier now than it has been.”

Naif and her peers embody two major reforms championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler: new opportunities for women and expanding entertainment options — notably music, which was once discouraged under Wahabism, a rigid Sunni version of Islam.

The possibility that DJs would be welcomed at public events, let alone that many would be women, is something “we didn’t expect” until recently, said Mohammed Nassar, a Saudi DJ known as Vinyl Mode. “You are seeing now more female artists coming out,” he said. Before “it was just a hobby to express themselves in their bedrooms”. “Now we have platforms, and you know they could even have careers. So it’s really amazing,” he added.

Winning over sceptics

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Naif was first introduced to electronic music as a teenager by one of her uncles, and she almost instantly started wondering whether DJ’ing was a viable job. While her friends dreamed of careers as doctors and teachers, she knew she didn’t have the patience for the schooling those paths required. “I’m a work person, not a studying person,” she said.

Unlike other women DJs, she had the immediate support of her parents and siblings. Other Saudis, however, required some winning over. Several years ago, a man came up to her mid-performance, declaring she was “not allowed” and demanding “Why are you doing this?”

His complaints got Naif’s set shut down, but she doubts the scene would play out the same way today. “Now I bet that same guy, if he sees me, he’s going to stand first in line just to watch.”

Naif has benefited from official attempts to trumpet Saudi Arabia’s new entertainment-friendly image, which is often criticised by human rights groups as a distraction from abuses. Her nomination to play at the Saudi pavilion of Expo Dubai 2020 gave her an international audience for the first time. But it’s the work at home that supports her day-to-day, earning her 1000 Saudi riyals (around $260) per hour.

Here to stay

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Other women DJs have encountered more resistance. Lujain Albishi, who performs under the name “Biirdperson”, started experimenting on DJ decks during the pandemic. Her family disapproved when she started talking about DJ’ing professionally, preferring she strive to become a doctor. She stuck with it anyway, developing her skills at private parties.

Her big break came last year when she was invited to perform at MDLBeast Soundstorm, a festival in the Saudi capital Riyadh that drew more than 700,000 revellers for performances including a set by superstar French DJ David Guetta. The experience left her “really proud”. “My family came to Soundstorm, saw me on stage. They were dancing, they were happy,” she said.

Both Naif and Albishi say they believe women DJs will remain fixtures in the kingdom, though their reasoning varies. For Naif, women DJs succeed because they are better than men at “reading people” and playing what they want to hear. Albishi, for her part, thinks there is no difference between men and women once they put their headphones on, and that’s why women DJs belong. “My music is not for females or for males,” she said. “It’s for music-lovers.”



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Music

Nazia Hassan to light up Times Square

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The Queen of South Asian Pop Nazia Hassan is on her way to light up Times Square! Getting the respect and honour she always deserved, the late singer’s picture will be displayed later this month in New York’s hippest space as part of Spotify’s global EQUAL initiative.

But for now, as the brand ambassador for the month of August, she’s headlining the cover of the streaming app’s EQUAL playlist, both local and global, and her iconic song Boom Boom is highlighted for everyone to groove to.

Embossing an everlasting mark in the nation’s hearts and revered for redefining local pop music landscape during the golden era of the 80s and 90s, Nazia became the first EQUAL ambassador to be honoured posthumously. The program, which launched earlier this year to provide space to women artists’ voices and recognise their impact on the music industry, has chosen the legendary Nazia this month in commemoration on the occasion of her 22nd death anniversary.

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“Nazia Hassan is a name synonymous with finesse and soulful rhymes. Her influence on the subcontinent continues to be emulated and admired until this day, even after her passing. Making her debut with the song Aap Jaisa Koi in 1980, she and her brother Zoheb Hassan have sold more than 65 million records worldwide. Having won the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer at 15 in 1981, she remains the first Pakistani and the youngest recipient of the accolade to date,” stated a press release issued by the music streaming platform.

It further added,  “As the world celebrates the 22nd anniversary of her passing on Aug 13, EQUAL Pakistan remembers her profound impact on Pakistan’s music ecosystem. With her brother Zoheb Hassan, Nazia holds enormous respect and affection for her music and her contributions to social causes.”

Commenting on the inclusion of his sister in the program, Zoheb said: “I’d like to thank Spotify for nominating my sister Nazia Hassan as the EQUAL Ambassador for Pakistan and Global. As kids, we’ve been sincere to our art and music. When we started, we filled the void for pop music for youngsters at the time when folk and traditional music dominated the music scene across South Asia. Our music eventually transcended across the world, proving that music does not have any boundaries. It is also important for artists to use their popularity for social changes as we tried when we were young, from looking after the environment to advocating peace.”

“This month, we are shining a light on an artist who revolutionised the music industry not only in her era but also for the times to come. That voice is none other than Nazia Hassan. We could not be prouder to have chosen to celebrate her life and music,” highlighted Spotify’s Khan FM, Artist and Label Partnerships, Pakistan. 

“We hope that her fans from all over the world can bring their emotions, love and respect and relive her life’s memories through all her epic achievements and accomplishments. Join us in celebrating an icon who etched a place in our hearts, forever with her soulful melodies.”

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Before Hasan, the program has honoured Grammy winner Arooj Aftab, Natasha Baig, Hadiqa Kiani, and Mehak Ali and has a list of exemplary female voices to introduce the world with. As per Spotify, each EQUAL Pakistan Ambassador of the Month will receive organic and on-platform promotion across Spotify’s editorial spaces. The model is meant to propel artists’ reach on the platform in both their home countries and beyond. Each EQUAL Ambassador is set to get a billboard placement in the middle of Times Square in New York as well and we can’t wait to see who’s next!



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Beyonce tops US songs chart in over a decade

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After releasing her much-anticipated album Renaissance, Beyonce has scored the number one spot on the top US songs chart for the first time in well over a decade.

Her lead single Break My Soul is the 40-year-old’s first solo song to hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 since 2008’s Single Ladies, the industry tracker said Monday.

Her seventh solo studio album also opened at number one on Billboard’s top albums chart, the entertainment outlet said.

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It’s the second-highest debut of the year, following Harry Styles’s Harry’s House.

Renaissance also unseated Latin trap global sensation Bad Bunny from the top of the Billboard 200 albums chart, where his Un Verano Sin Ti had held the top spot for five straight weeks, along with two peaks when it first came out in May for a total of seven weeks at number one.

Eminently danceable and rife with nods to disco and EDM history, Beyonce’s latest album burst onto the summer scene primed for its needle drop at the club.

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on Renaissance, but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, rap, house and disco.

In the weeks preceding the album’s release, Beyonce teased it with a steady stream of the glossy, curated portraits of herself that over the past decade have become her signature.

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But though she’s received wide praise for keeping the world of music videos on the cutting edge, Beyonce put out her latest record sans visuals (they’re promised at a later date.)

For all her cultural clout and an indisputable throne in music’s pantheon, Beyonce’s songs historically have not seen the same commercial dominance as other contemporary global stars.

That was poised to change with Renaissance — and Queen Bey made good on her chances.

On Monday, the megastar released a series of portraits on Instagram including a clip of her in a disco ball of an outfit, smiling for the camera as she waved her finger to signal her number-one status.

 

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Drake launches Moosewala T-shirt to honour singer’s music

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Canadian rapper Drake has paid tribute to late Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala, who was gunned down in Indian Punjab’s Mansa district this May.

To honour the singer’s legacy, Drake is launching a collection of T-shirts on his website, with the proceeds going to a charity selected by Moosewala’s family. Drake was also seen wearing the T-shirt at a concert in Canada back in July.

Drake’s team announced the collection on their Instagram account this Thursday. Sharing a montage of clips from Moose Wala’s music videos, his team wrote, “Sidhu Moosewala (1993-2022). We celebrate your life and influence in India, Canada, everywhere. Rest in peace to our friend and legend. We are working with Sidhu’s family to dedicate proceeds from this drop in his honour.”

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This is not the first time the Grammy-winning artist has paid tribute to Moose Wala. Drake played the singer’s hit singles 295 and G-Sh*t in the first episode of his radio show Table for One in June, resulting in the songs gaining a much larger fan base. When news of Moose Wala’s death surfaced, the rapper had also shared an Instagram story to bid farewell to the Punjabi singer. “Rest in peace, Moose,” he had written.



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